Helping Hands

Two local orgs cater to families with special-needs children

Charlotte Deleste with son, Gio.

“There are services out there for special needs—but not enough, and the funding isn’t enough,” says Charlotte Deleste, morning co-anchor on WISC–TV.

Deleste would know: her oldest son, Gio, has autism as well as up to thirty seizures a day caused by a form of epilepsy. Back in February 2009 Deleste and her husband quickly became overwhelmed dealing with not only Gio’s needs but also younger son, Benicio, who was a colicky baby. After applying for forty-hour-per-week, in-home nursing care, they learned that Gio qualified for only one hour of care per week. She knew she had to do something—for her, and for all of the parents who needed a break caring for their kids with special needs.

“I was told that once Gio got older, he would qualify for more hours of in-home nursing care—but I didn’t need that help later, I needed that help now,” emphasizes Deleste.

The idea for Gio’s Garden, a respite center for parents with special-needs kids ages zero to six, is well in the planning stages with $70,000 raised toward a goal of $250,000. The center, which may be located in Fitchburg, would provide care as a last resort for parents who are on a respite services waiting list for at-home nursing services (which Deleste notes is extremely common—they’re still on a waiting list from 2008 with United Cerebral Palsy), those who can’t afford to pay out-of-pocket for care and those who are, in her words, “going to lose it” from being in an arguably agonizing situation.

“The resources are insufficient for parents,” says Deleste. “The day the waiting list goes away is the day I stop fundraising.”

A Caring Center

Jackie Moen is no stranger to that feeling of loneliness and desperation that parents with special-needs children may have. After Moen’s twin sons were diagnosed with autism, she decided to help families in her situation by opening Common Threads Family Resource Center in McFarland in the old Waubesa School building. The historic space is sunny and inviting, and—more importantly—not overwhelming for special-needs kids (and adults, whom they also serve).

“I lived this—I know where the voids are, having two kids with autism,” explains Moen, the center’s founder and executive director.

Opened in October 2007, Common Threads serves around 175 clients with ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, OCD, autism and more, and offers support groups and a school for kids in grades 1–8. Moen and Ellen Eggen, director of planning and operations, are enthusiastic about the successes they’ve already had, sharing anecdotes of kids who have made improvements in everyday tasks—some even return to public school. The facility is a licensed outpatient mental health clinic, notes Moen.

Common Threads is a nonprofit and accepts insurance and medical assistance; however, bills can quickly add up for those who need intensive therapy because of insurance limits, something Moen wants to see change.

“These services are needed,” says Moen simply. “And as a parent, I can finally breathe now.”

Quick Read: School Days

Classrooms are always a place to study—but what if the classroom is being studied? The Waisman Center on the UW campus has long been known for working in the areas of human development, developmental disabilities and neurodegenerative diseases, plus research, training, service and outreach—but they also operate an early childhood  program.

Kids ages one to eight can attend school or childcare year-round. What’s a little more unique is that only up to one-third of the children in the program may have special educational needs because of a developmental delay or disability—a nice perk for parents who want their kids to learn alongside those of differing abilities.

Drawing on the   center’s strength in human development and developmental disabilities, researchers, educators and the clinicians have a cutting-edge arsenal at their disposal to study classroom issues and child development.                             

Shayna Miller is associate editor of Madison Magazine.

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